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What does an Intensivist do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An intensivist is a doctor who provides care to patients who require intensive care. Intensive care is characterized by close monitoring and support for critically ill patients. In addition to board certified intensivists, the medical profession also supports nurses who specialize in intensive care, along with paramedics who have completed training in this area of medicine. All of these professionals have been thoroughly trained in providing services to critically ill patients.

This area of medicine is known as intensive or critical care medicine, and an intensivist may also be referred to as a critical care specialist. Certification requirements vary by nation. In the United States, people who receive training in internal medicine, general surgery, anesthesiology, or pediatrics can become board certified intensivists with the right training. Emergency physicians may opt to take a critical care fellowship which allows them to earn certification.

The work of an intensivist takes place in the intensive care unit (ICU) or critical care unit (CCU) of a hospital. Intensivists may also be involved in the evaluation of patients to determine whether or not they are candidates for the ICU. Patients must have conditions which are treatable to be accepted into the ICU; an intensivist may believe that the patient is better served by hospice or other supportive care if there is no reasonable chance of recovery.

In the ICU, an intensivist works to keep the patient alive. This includes supporting the organ systems of the patients with measures which can include dialysis to help failing kidneys, mechanical ventilation for patients who cannot breathe on their own, and the implantation of a pacemaker or pacing wires for a patient with heart problems. The intensivist sustains life and helps the patient fight the condition which landed her or him in the ICU, with the goal of helping the patient recover.

The best success rates in intensive care happen in facilities which have a high concentration of staff per patient, including doctors, nurses, and other support staff. Intensive care requires very high levels of attentiveness and monitoring to keep patients stable and intervene when problems develop. This includes overnight care, and intensivists may be called when they are not on duty to address problems with specific patients, help to process an admission, or offer other forms of support.

Intensivist salaries vary, depending on years of experience and training and where the physician works. Before taking a position in this medical specialty, it can be wise to look up prevailing rates of pay for physicians in the area, and to look at rates of pay for physicians in comparable positions located in comparable areas.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon146289 — On Jan 25, 2011

I am a nurse and would always want my care in the ICU delivered primarily by a 24 hours in - house intensivist.

If your hospital does not have one, and your loved one is critically ill (any failing organ), you can request a transfer to a facility that has one!

By surreallife — On Mar 31, 2010

This must be a stressful job. In the long run it must take a big toll on the psyche.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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